Monday, June 21, 2010

New Avengers #1 - Review

Another title in the Avengers stable has been launched and for a change I picked this one up as well; Brubaker’s Secret Avengers was always going to work for me but the core Marvel U has so rarely appealed to me on a buying level. I didn’t pick up Bendis’ adjectiveless Avengers but I made the dip for this team basically just because of Iron Fist, and because he seems to take a relatively prominent role in this introductory arc, if the solicits are anything to be believed. Hit the jump to see what I thought of the issue.

Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils by Stuart Immonen
Inks by Wade Von Grawbadger
Colours by Laura Martin

I didn’t buy into the whole Bendis era of the Avengers, to be honest with you all. I got a trade of Secret Invasion, and didn’t actually mind it as a bit of popcorn fun though it wasn’t a tome of revelatory nature, and I previously did not pick up any of the Avengers titles (New, Mighty, Dark, etc). I just am not a man that buys the core Marvel U. I live in the fringes with Daredevil and the Fantastic Four. I never jump on event titles and so have usually been keen to stay away from the titles that get swept away in the events.

Ed Brubaker had drawn me in with his covert ops team on Secret Avengers and now that Iron Fist no longer has his own ongoing I had to get my fix somewhere, somehow. I’ll admit, I like a lot of Bendis’ previous work; Alias is rock solid, his Image stuff is pretty cool, and he will always hold the bar for Daredevil in my eyes. Sure, it’s easy to take shots at him now but there’s no denying the man has talent. But no creator is ever always perfect. I decided to take a chance on this title because, in all honesty, I was curious.

I love Danny Rand as a character and so want to follow him. I also like Dr Strange but am not sure I would necessarily pick up an ongoing of his, nor did I get his previous mini, though I’d like to support him. Throwing Ben Grimm into the mix is an interesting move and so I’m also keen to see how Wolverine fares with this casual style of group. I am expecting laidback, beer drinkin’ Wolvie (which is exactly what I get). I’m in on this issue for a trial, and possibly even only an arc.

After reading this first issue, I’d have a high probability of saying I’m in for the whole arc. I really liked this first issue, warts and all. I had a lot of fun and I was able to just switch off and completely enjoy the show, and it’s certainly a different sort of show. If Avengers is Bendis’ showtune to the classic era of tales about Marvel’s holy trinity (Cap, Iron Man, and Thor) then this title very much seems to be his more broad sitcom as drama infused story. It’s like Rescue Me, with a bunch of heroes sitting in the squad house and talking smack, but also getting down and dirty when necessary. (*Note: I love Rescue Me and do not actually think this is anywhere near as good as Rescue Me, but it seems to fit that style more than it does the old Avengers era of tales.) I like that this is the Avengers title you can get if you don’t want old school and you don’t want espionage and you don’t want kids. They talk of oversaturation of Avengers but when each title is this disparate then I don’t see a comparison except that they fall within the same banner. That’s like saying all the shows on one TV channel are all the same. This is its own beast. If you don’t like it don’t buy it, but it’s there for those who will only want to buy this one.

But what did I think of the events in the actual issue? The issue opens with a mystical and mysterious threat taking over Daimon Hellstrom and drawing Dr Strange into its sinister web. Right in the very first panel we see Bendis employ a trick that a few have been using lately where Strange appears and a text caption tells us the spell he used to get there, and where that spell can be found in the Book of Vishanti. It’s something that Matt Fraction does regularly, winking at the audience with an ‘I’m-smarter-than-you’ smirk, and though many hate it in the Uncanny X-Men I loved it in the Immortal Iron Fist and don’t actually mind it here. It doesn’t take me out of the story and it doesn’t slow me down, it just gives me more to appreciate.

Cap calls dibs on Thor and Iron Man

Then we jump to just after Siege as all of the heroes chill out at a post-victory BBQ. Luke Cage doesn’t understand why Steve Rogers now gets to be top cop when every previous top cop has also been pretty useless. He sees it as a return to a status quo that has failed them, subbing in a good guy for a bad guy but keeping the same system. Well, I assume that’s what he’s thinking as he doesn’t say much but just whinge and then geek out when he gets to buy the Avengers Mansion from Tony Stark for the slashed price of one dollar.

Many have also complained that this team doesn’t serve any purpose, that it’s just there because Marvel want it to be to sell more comics with Avengers in the title. Well, yeah, obviously, Marvel aren’t going to just can a successful title, but also I like that this team gets to be the B-side to the heavy hitters. They can’t have Cap, Thor or Iron Man, and Steve Rogers explicitly says so, but otherwise Cage can put together whatever team he likes. In a world where they can form Force Works, the New Warriors, Invaders, Defenders, a team for every state in America and far too many X-teams, I don’t actually mind them having this Avengers team as the public B-team. Brubaker’s team is hidden from the public and I’m sure the Avengers Academy will be relatively shadowed so this makes sense to get a run. Why Cage gets to run the team is beyond me, but I guess someone has to do it and he did it in the past, if I’m not mistaken. So, once you get past those issues you can just enjoy Cage picking his team (and who hasn’t sat back and picked their own Avengers team in the past?).

Cage is moving into the mansion with his wife (Jessica Jones) and child, as well as best friend and someone I’d like to think is the second in charge because he was clearly picked first, Iron Fist. They enter only to find Victoria Hand, the liaison for Norman Osborn’s Dark Avengers and former second in command of HAMMER, waiting for them. Bendis then uses 5 pages to make a point that Hand needs redemption and a second chance is coming. It overtly handles the why of her being kept around but I can’t help but feel this was done pre-emptively to silence any fanlads who didn’t understand her inclusion. I feel this could have been done quicker, but maybe that’s just me. I also didn’t know Cage had the ability to do Hulk-style claps that would send people skittling away from him.

Elsewhere, Dr Voodoo is being hassled by the possessed duo of Hellstrom and Strange. Voodoo manages to watch his dead brother’s spirit seemingly disappear and then realises that he’s up against a new foe who seems pretty damn powerful, but also pretty calm. I like that Voodoo is involved in all this as well. I didn’t pick up his ongoing (or was it reclassified as a mini in hindsight?) but I do like him as a character. I like the mystical side of Marvel in general so this villain plot seems right up my alley.

Within the Avengers Mansion, we now find who Cage picked in his fantasy team writ large as buddies and respected colleagues kick back for some food. We get a pretty mixed bag and they might not all make sense to me right now, but I’m sure their inclusion will become clear at some stage. There aren’t any lame poses as everyone faces away from each other for the iconic splash, no, instead Immonen delivers a round table scene where Wolverine chows down with his hood back, Spidey has the mask up to the nose (which always makes me laugh) and Hawkeye even has (gasp!) his back to us. It’s a well placed page of characters actually just doing stuff and we also find Mockingbird, Ms Marvel, and the Thing standing round the table. In this one scene we find small slices of character that make me see this team as more of a club. And as Cage says, when you’re not off doing your other stuff then you can go there and do some of their stuff. It’s not military at all, it’s completely relaxed. Getting to see Wolvie with his hood back and sucking on a beer solidifies this idea. These are just some cool people with some awesome interests.

As Cage speaks, the Eye of Agamotto appears in his hand and we know that things with Voodoo obviously did not go well. Hellstrom and Strange turn up to acquire the precious item and then surely all hell is about to break loose. The team is all there, their perfect lunch has been ruined, and someone is trying to become the new ruler of this dimension. It’s a great set up and I am most certainly interested to see what happens next.

Luke Cage - New Avenger leader, Thunderbolts director and, now, Master of the Mystic Arts?

Most of all, I like the back and forth dialogue that Bendis delivers. We see the heroes in a casual light and that’s kind of what I want. These guys aren’t soldiers with sticks up their asses, they’re just people who do the right thing. I may not love every character on the team but there’s enough there for me to certainly enjoy the show. This issue hits me like the first 20 minutes of a great action movie. It’s intriguing, without giving too much away. It’s funny, without pandering to real schtick comedy. And most importantly, it’s fun and I can just kick back and soak it all up.

Stuart Immonen’s work on the art, with some great work by an inker with my favourite name in his field, Wade Von Grawbadger, delivers an Avengers comic the way I want to see it. John Romita Jr is never going to be my preferred style and though I can handle Mike Deodato’s wide spread stances for everyone over in Secret Avengers, Immonen has an immensely enjoyable style. Everyone looks the part and each page looks clean and like a Marvel comic. He’s easily becoming one of my favourite artists in the Marvel stable.

Laura Martin is a colourist who doesn’t seem to ever do a bad job, no matter where she turns up. She colours and lights each scene in this issue with a different tone so you know exactly what sort of vibe you are walking into. It’s a great job and one that just makes the whole issue sing visually.

People might not like Bendis-speak, and when it comes out of the wrong character’s mouth then it certainly is odd, but when working the jaws of characters like Cage, Rand, Wolvie, Spidey, and Ben Grimm he really nails it. I got to the end of this issue and found that I had completely enjoyed myself and that’s what I want from my committed money. I want to have fun.

Verdict – Buy It. If this is the sort of comic you are after, a summer blockbuster with fun, laughs, action, and intrigue then it has to be a purchase. If you’re not into that style of comic then buy something else. I already pull down other stuff like Criminal for my serious stories, for a bit of fun I’m elbows deep into New Avengers, and I’m loving it.

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twobitspecialist said...

@Ryan - Dang. Now I'm torn about buying this, because Ryan the Iowan hated this but you seemed to love it. I'll put it off for a while because I still need to get Avengers #1 and Avengers Academy #1.

Matt Duarte said...

I liked it too, but I'm biased because

A) I wasn't exactly a fan of the Avengers before Bendis took over (although I've gone back and read Busiek's run, Avengers Forever, and JLA/Avengers)

B) I freaking love Stuart Immnonen

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@twobitspecialist - I guess you have to look at our reasons for liking/hating it and see what aspects appeal to you or don't. I liked this issue because it was fun, pure and simple as that. It had some good lines, the vibe was mellow, and it had Iron Fist in it, kinda, somewhere in the background (enough for me right now).

When the times come, you'll know the choice that is right for you.

And it's also funny that two reviewers that you like (I assume) both have opposite views, so what do you do. I always find this kind of thing interesting because there are reviewers I like but know I don't always agree with, but sometimes you get one that you're on synch with, and you either trust them to help with decisions or you don't. I hope one of us help you.

twobitspecialist said...

@Ryan - I like your reviews and those of the other Ryan, so yeah, I'm in a little bit of a pickle. I think I'll underthink it:

1 "Buy It" + 1 "Avoid It" = 1 "Check It"???

Michael Edwards said...

Bendis is a great story teller. I think every one should give his New Avengers a try. He's really come into his own. :)

Steven R. Stahl said...

There are broad problems with how Bendis handled sorcery in NEW AVENGERS and in this issue. The biggest practical problems are his reliance on possession as a form of mind control, a power he relies on heavily in stories, and the depiction of the Eye of Agamotto as a king-making talisman. It's never been that in other writers' stories, and there's no logical basis for the depiction. The Eye is used to invoke Agamotto. If Agamotto ignores the invocation, the Eye is powerless; Agamotto could also take back the Eye if it's being used improperly.


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